Mercy: humanity in war

New York, NY: Oxford University Press (2022)
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Abstract

This book sets stories of morally decent actions in a wider context of the essential barbarism of war. It charts the wider path of obscenity and atrocity in war to highlight moments of moral grace, of goodwill toward the enemy and civilians inside a frame of jarring ugliness and malice. It does not seek traditional war heroes or elevate anyone to secular sainthood. It presents ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary swirl of war, who did not see themselves as saints or heroes at the time yet showed rare courage, notwithstanding. It presents portraits of everyday folk who reacted in a moment of crisis with mercy and sensitivity, with empathy for shared humanity with an enemy or the innocent. The goal is to recognize those brave few who refused immoral acts and orders, even at grave personal risk. Who in the midst of degradation and dehumanization saw common humanity, then chose not to pull the trigger. And others who put themselves outside suffocating conformity, to help rather than kill a wounded enemy or stop an atrocity. And those who made a simple gesture of kindness to a suffering enemy that had no larger consequence. Uninterested in saints, it looks to map a more modest, achievable and relatable lesson taken from the annals of war: an accounting best captured in a simple yet compelling word 'decency.'

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